Wichita bracing for the return of Summer of Mercy protests

FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 25, 1991 file photo, police carry away an anti-abortion protester after she and dozens of others were arrested at an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan. During the 1991 Summer of Mercy, thousands of abortion opponents descended on the city, clogged streets with sit-ins, blocked clinic doors and filled the jails. Protests are planned again this summer at the clinic to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1991 protests that led to nearly 2,700 arrests. (AP Photo/Jefferey Z. Carney)

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Twenty-five years after tumultuous mass protests led to nearly 2,700 arrests outside local abortion clinics, Wichita is bracing for a Summer of Mercy anniversary that supporters hope will draw hundreds of activists.

The Wichita Police Department has spent months putting together a 60-page operational plan that aims at ensuring that everyone is safe.

“I don’t think that we are anticipating an event like 1991,” said Police Capt. Brian White. “However, we have to be prepared for all possibilities and we want to ensure protesters have the ability to exercise their rights to protest, and we also want to make sure that we balance that with the legal right for the businesses to operate.”

The return of the Summer of Mercy, slated for July 16-23, is being organized by Operation Save America, a Dallas-based Christian fundamentalist group now led by Rusty Thomas. Group leaders say they hope to complete in 2016 what activists started in 1991.

About 100 to 150 police officers have been assigned to the protests, White said, adding that the department is changing assignments of current officers while not compromising its ability to respond to 911 calls elsewhere.

“While we have had good lines of communications with protesters, we have to be prepared for the unexpected and that is what we are doing,” White said.

Donna Lippoldt of Operation Save America’s Wichita affiliate did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Pastor Rob Rotola, whose Word of Life Church is hosting the Summer of Mercy, also did not return a call from the Associated Press.

Abortion provider George Tiller and the clinic where he performed late-term abortions had been a target for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985, and Tiller was shot in both arms in 1992. Tiller was fatally shot in 2009 at his Wichita church by an abortion opponent. No abortion services were available in the city for years afterward until April 2013 when the abortion rights group Trust Women opened the South Wind Women’s Center in Tiller’s former facility.

Director Julie Burkhart said the clinic plans to stay open during this year’s protest, but the decision was ultimately made not to do any counter protesting.

“It is a new approach,” Burkhart said. “That our work is here inside and it is out talking to people who would like to have meaningful conversations in the community and not standing out basically wasting energy on folks that will never be able to understand that sometimes some people need or want to access abortion care.”

Instead, abortion rights supporters put together events including a rally and reception as part of what they’ve dubbed the #ShowSomeMercy Celebration.

Abortion opponents plan protests at the South Wind clinic as well as the Planned Parenthood clinic, which began offering abortions by pill earlier this year. Other Summer of Mercy events include seminars, rallies and religious services.

Twenty-five years ago mass protests led to nearly 2,700 arrests outside Wichita abortion clinics. Now that city is bracing for a Summer of Mercy anniversary that its supporters hope will draw hundreds of activists.

The Wichita Police Department has spent months putting together a 60-page plan that aims to ensure everyone’s rights are protected and everyone is safe. The department has assigned about 100 to 150 police officers to the operation.

Police Capt. Brian White says police aren’t anticipating an event like the 1991 Summer of Mercy, but they have to be prepared for all possibilities.

The protest, slated for July 16-23, is being organized by the Christian fundamentalist group Operation Save America.

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